Government - Written by Thomas Gegenhuber on Friday, June 4, 2010 10:13 - 5 Comments
Microsoft’s e-government browser in Austria: Just a good service or a play to increase market share?
I’ve been living here in Canada for 9 months. When I tell people that I am from Austria, they ask me if Austria is like “The Sound of Music.” Austria is indeed a small country with lots of mountains in the heart of Europe and has 8.3 Million inhabitants. But it some fields, Austria is more innovative than some might assume. It is one of the role models for e-government within Europe. All levels of the government (federal, provincial, and local) and key stakeholders who offer important services for citizens cooperate on the platform “Digital Austria.” The results of these efforts: From 2006 to 2009 Austria achieved the first place in the European E-Government ranking. One example of successful service: “Finanz Online,” the online service platform of the Finance Ministry which has 1.5 Million users that can file their tax declaration via the platform. Furthermore Austria has a health card, which can be activated as a citizen card. This card serves as a proof of identity that is required for sensitive government services. Soon, the government of Austria will also offer a digital signature for cell phones.
One-Stop-Shop in your Browser
Microsoft and the Government of Austria collaborated on the Project “Digital Austria Explorer.” Microsoft developed a menu bar for the iExplorer (see below for an example). This menu bar serves as an easy, accessible, and user-friendly one-stop-shop for all available e-government services. Over 1,000 forms and 350 government procedures can be accessed online; citizens can search for services, use E-Government applications like Finance Online, and find useful information about daily services like doctors, public transports, and job postings from the Austrian “Work” agency and tourism. The development of this project is paid for by Microsoft Austria. The CEO of Microsoft Austria Petra Jenner states that: “Red tape government services was yesterday – Austria shows with this project, how successful e-government should look like. This unique innovation brings the government services closer to citizens and enterprises.”
So what’s the catch?
I am cautious when Microsoft does something for free. From a privacy perspective, this system is safe; Microsoft does not get access to the data. One problem with Microsoft is that the market share of iExplorer in Austria is only around 35 %. Someone who doesn’t have iExplorer is excluded from the service (like Mac-Users, since Microsoft stopped the development of the iExplorer for Mac in 2005).
I assume Microsoft gets two benefits from this project:
- If this service is successful, more people will switch to the iExplorer. E-Government services are an instrument to increase market share.
- Offering good services for citizens via the iExplorer is good PR for Microsoft. (Since the news reports are mostly negative related to Microsoft’s battle with the European Union over Anti-Trust laws).
Is it a problem that this service is only available via an exclusive platform? The Government of Austria argues: “We have no problems when somebody approaches us with a good idea. Next time we will work together with someone else. If other browsers also want to offer this service, we would not say no.” Without any doubt, this is a good service and a great example of what Nick Vitalari talks about when he discusses the role of public-private ecosystems. However I believe that, in general, the goal of the government should be to use open platforms, even if it means investing taxpayer’s money. What’s your opinion?
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